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A Boater’s Guide to New York State’s Waterway: The Erie Canal

The Erie Canal was officially proposed for the first time back in 1807. It was noted for being the very first system of transportation between New York City and the Great Lakes that did not necessitate any portage. Another advantage for travelers was that it was a faster means of transportation than carts pulled by animals. Its construction also helped save travelers money because it reduced the costs of transportation by 95 percent.

A waterway that can be found in New York, the Erie Canal runs for 363 miles. It travels from Albany to Buffalo, along the Hudson River until it arrives at Lake Erie. The Erie Canal basically completes a water route that is navigable, from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Great Lakes. A total of 36 locks span the length of the canal, and its total elevation differential is approximately 570 feet.

The reasons behind the creation of the Erie Canal had initially to do with attempting to connect the East Coast to the western settlements that were newly appearing; while proposals were made to the New York state legislature in the 18th century, efforts to jump start canal-building failed. The Erie Canal advocate who finally succeeded in beginning the efforts to build the canal was the entrepreneur by the name of Jesse Hawley. His motivation was driven by profit, as he wanted a way to transport grain that he imagined growing in Western New York to the Eastern Seaboard. He received major support from Joseph Ellicott, an agent representing the Holland Land Company, who also had a profit motive in seeing a canal built. Hawley would later on succeed in persuading New York Governor DeWitt Clinton to back the project. Despite opposition and pejorative names used to describe the new project, Clinton was able to secure legislative funding for $7 million for the Erie Canal project in 1817.

The Erie Canal became the United States’ first major system of transportation. This permitted goods of all kind to be moved to and from New York and also the Upper Midwest, making it a major commercial enterprise. Since it also lessened the distance that ships and boats had to sail between eastern seaports and the Great Lakes, the canal ensured a more efficient way of shipping goods. Finally, the Erie Canal made a strong contribution to the importance and reputation of New York State, New York City, and Buffalo.

The effects of the Erie Canal related mainly to increasing trade around the nation, not just around the New York State area. It accomplished this through opening overseas and eastern markets to farm products that hailed from the Midwest. Communities consisting of ethnic Irish people also began to emerge along the route of the Erie Canal, which only made sense and was natural because Irish immigrants were a significant core of the labor force that was used to construct the canal. Finally, at the time of the completion of the canal, the US found itself growing closer to England and Europe by way of a substantial increase in the export of Midwestern wheat to Europe.

The legacy of the Erie Canal can still be felt today, as it is still in use, mainly for recreational watercraft purposes. However, in 2008, it was recorded that there was a noteworthy uptick in the use of the canal for commercial traffic purposes again. In the year 2000, the Erie Canal was honored by the Congress by having the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor designated. This was done to remark the national importance of the Erie Canal as the most influential and successful waterway that was human-built. It was also honored for being one of the most significant works of engineering and construction in all of North America.

The Erie Canal is barely two centuries old, but in that short time, it has made a huge impact on the US. This impact extends not only to commercial and traveling purposes, but also to implications of national heritage and engineering feats. Without the canal, commercial trade may not have caught on as quickly as it ended up doing in the US. This information is provided as a service to the public interested in learning more about the Erie Canal by Action Donation Services® who partners with the BoatUS Foundation. If you have a no longer needed boat or yacht, consider donating your vessel to the BoatUS Foundation who promotes maritime education and boating safety.

To learn more about the Erie Canal, consult the following links.

Erie Canal Information

Erie Canal Education

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